It took them two hours to find the exit by chance and none of them wanted to go in again to search for the middle.
"Let's just set it free right here.", Katherine sighed. "It will find everything it needs eventually." Even Hazel nodded approvingly.
It was surprising, how quiet Froseti was all this time. It seemed to like sitting on Katherine's arm. But although the rabbit was small, after carrying it for over two hours her arms were hurting badly.
Crouching down, she put Froseti on the ground. "There you go. This big garden is your new home now. Be safe."
The rabbit, however, didn't move at all. It just sat there and looked up at her adorably. "You're free now. Hush.", Katherine tried again. Slowly, it began to move. Just it's direction didn't fit. It hopped right back to Katherine's feet and rested it's head against her ankle. Black lines appeared on Katherine's forehead as it rubbed it's fluffy head on her. "Are you a cat?! That's not how a rabbit should react!"
Jack laughed uproariously, Pete chuckled, and Hazel said: "What's wrong? It just wants to be with you. So are we going to keep it now?"
The hope in her voice was unmistakable. Katherine snorted and stood up. "I walked for two hours just to set it free. You think I'm going to give in so easily now?"
"But...", Hazel protested with some disappointment.
"No 'buts'", her lady snapped. "Being outside is the best for it, even if it doesn't want to at first. It will learn to love it soon."
She started walking back to the Mansion. The others followed her, albeit Hazel reluctantly. The maid was looking back at the rabbit all the time, nearly bumping into Pete while doing so. But that was exactly why she was the first to see the rabbit move again.
Like a little stalker, it followed Katherine, always keeping the distance of ten steps between them. Naturally, Hazel didn't tell on it. Only her face brightened a bit, while at the same time trying not to show it.
Once Pete looked behind himself to check the vicinity, and noticed the rabbit. But at that time, Froseti was sitting still and gnawing on grass peacefully like it was a perfectly innocent, normal animal. Pete knitted his brows, surprised to see the rabbit still so near, but didn't think about it further. Maybe the grass was more delicious here than back there. Who knows?
As Pete turned around again, Froseti made another two hops and Hazel did her best not to giggle.
Finally, they reached the mansion's entrance. Just as Katherine wanted to go inside, Hazel raised her voice shyly. "Milady... take a look."
Turning around, Katherine's gaze landed on the rabbit. She sighed. "Don't say it followed us all the way."
"It did, milady.", Hazel smiled hopefully.
Crouching down again in front of the rabbit, Katherine hit his fluffy head softly. "What should I do with you if you don't want to go, hm? You're thick-headed, you know that? Well, I think I have no choice then."
Picking it up from the ground, Katherine turned to Hazel. "Looks like you two won. We'll take it back in first and I'll ask for a big cage to be made here outside. It will be safe and sound there." Seeing Hazel's pouting expression, Katherine said stubbornly: "No, we won't make a cage for inside! It deserves to at least see the sun daily. And you can visit it anytime anyways."
Having reached half of her goal, Hazel gave in. "Okay."
Jack on the side chuckled slightly. In the end, their lady had a hard shell, but a soft core. One could see that she liked both the rabbit and her maid very much, although she had her own ideas of what was good for them.
Up in her chamber, Sam was waiting for her. "Milady, your horse will be there tomorrow afternoon. You can go to the stables yourself to receive it, but the earl asks of you to not leave his lands for now. It might not be safe."
Hearing the news, Katherine's eyes glittered. The horse was there! Hopefully it was a nice one!
About not leaving the earls lands... Surely it was more about his distrust in her than any danger outside. But she was okay with it. She would make him trust her slowly.
The earl. Nathaniel. She tried using his name in her thoughts, but it didn't sound quite right yet. Maybe after some time it would be simpler, when they were closer. Which bought her to the question: "What about our next meeting? Did he look into his schedule yet?"
With a bright smile, Sam replied: "As a matter of fact, he has. The morning three days later would be ideal. Furthermore, he needs to trouble milady to look after the patient again tomorrow morning."
With a pensive look, Katherine nodded. "Alright. I already expected as much. Please relay my regards for finding a meeting time so soon to the earl." A mischievous grin tugged on her red lips. "Now I have plenty of time to prepare."
Sam lifted his grey eye-brows in a surprised and happy way. "I'm looking forward to it, milady."
Although he'd like to ask, what the lady's plans were, he didn't want to stain his serious image by getting too curious about the matters between his earl and the lady. He could still spy on them when they finally had the date... No, he didn't realize that that was an even more shameless act.
With a respectful bow and a light heart, he left.
A little earlier, the earl and his butler were standing in front of the flower field where the earl tried to pick the peony. Like a plague the black liquid had spread all over everything it touched, leaving the whole flower field, nearly fifty quarter steps, as an obscure black pond, swallowing all light and life. It was still spreading.
"I was careless.", the earl admitted.
"You were.", Sam agreed readily. There wasn't a hint of accusation in his voice. "Are the new gloves still uncomfortable?"
"It's more of a general problem. I just don't like gloves.", the earl said with knitted brows while scrutinizing the blackness in front of him.
"Well, I can't do anything about that.", Sam sighed, shaking his head in a helpless fashion. "At least it is just a flower field. Could have been worse, right?"
"It is bad enough.", the earl grumbled and pulled off one of his gloves. "Now step aside so I can manage that before it takes over the whole garden."
Obediently, Sam complied. The earl crouched down in front of the black pond, reaching out with his hand. As if it was a strange creature, maybe a corrupted dog meeting it's master, the blackness rose up from the ground in a wave-like fashion, and rubbed itself against the earl's palm. Black meeting white. Connecting and mixing up. It was the darkness, which invaded the earl's hand, running over his skin in black lines, up to his elbow.
The pond on the ground got smaller rapidly, but the earl's forehead was already full of sweat. Still, he didn't make a sound and his expression remained cold, a cold hatred directed at the liquid slowly spreading into him.
As the last drop of darkness got sucked into his fingertips, the lines had reached his shoulder, hidden under the sleeve of the grey suit jacket. It was like the liquid had minimized itself to fit inside his body or as if most of it vanished into thin air.
"How much did you manage to expel?", Sam asked carefully, coming closer again.
Hastily, the earl pulled the glove over his n.a.k.e.d hand. "Almost everything."
"You know, you can just call for her now and let yourself be treated? The longer you wait, the more damage it does."
"I could.", The earl agreed. "But I've just parted with her. I... " don't want to see her now, were the words he wanted to say.
There was still this confusing feeling from when she called his name. He wanted to let it go to rest before seeing her again. Letting her treat him was undeniably important, but... wouldn't she need to touch his body again?
Sam didn't report any improvement in her usage of magic power. The earl, too, knew it wasn't so simple to improve the degree of control over a magic power. He just didn't want her to touch him with those warm hands while her voice calling his name was still ringing in his ears. Or else the painful feeling in his chest would get even more intense.
It was dumb to wait for too long. However, just a little bit longer couldn't be that bad, right? He found his footing again. "I've got too much work waiting for me today. Make it tomorrow."
Sam, who silently watched the earl's fl.u.s.ter from the sideline, was surprised. Did he already feel something for her? Why else would he let his emotions overrule his rationality and wait with the treatment? He thought it would take longer for Katherine to get a hold on his lord. Obviously the girl was better than he expected.
A smile tugged on his lips, but that didn't mean he wanted the earl to delay his treatment. It was something concerning his lord's life and death still. Maybe provocation would help, although it would surely bring him in hell's kitchen again. "I know exactly how much work you have to do. Is it really enough to justify you running away from a little girl?"
The death-glare of the earl hit him like icy water, it's intensity not reduced by expecting it. Sadly, it was one of the death-glares saying: 'I know exactly what you're trying to do here. I won't be influenced by your bullshit.'
"You like jumping at the boarder of my patience too much in the last days.", the earl commented, but didn't do anything about it. And that was the end of the conversation.